Of the four Eastern Conference teams that would be added under the proposed 24-team Return To Play playoff format, who do the Boston Bruins match up best with?
That playoff scenario gained steam this weekend and was discussed – amongst other topics such as the NHL Entry Draft – on the biweekly NHL Board Of Governor’s conference call Monday afternoon. However, according to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, a yay or nay on this proposal might have to wait until their next call and of course until the players approve it. The idea of waiting another two weeks clearly indicates there will be no return to the ice in June given the fact players would need to travel to the designated hub cities and quarantine for two weeks and then have at least a two-week training camp.
If the owners and then the NHLPA were to approve this format though, the common belief is winning percentage would be used to determine which teams are invited to the dance. That means the Columbus Blue Jackets (.579), Florida Panthers (.565), New York Rangers (.564), and Montreal Canadiens (.500) would be added into the East playoff picture. Per Renaud Lavoie of TVA this is how things would shake out:
“The 24 teams that would return would then play in a five-game, nine-day divisional round-robin where each team would play each other once. When the group stage is completed, the top two teams in the standings would get a bye. Lavoie reports that how a team performed in the regular season would be factored in. The four other teams (3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5) would play a best-of-three series to move on. After that, a normal playoff would be conducted where each team would play in a best-of-seven format.”
Lavoie also reported the teams would be broken into four divisions but with some slight changes as the New York Rangers would hop from the Metro to the Atlantic and the Minnesota Wild would go from the Central to the Pacific. As of Monday night, Lavoie was still reporting four hub cities would be used but many, including LeBrun, were honed in on two.
Since the Bruins are currently the best team – record and winning percentage-wise – in the NHL, they clearly would get a bye. While we obviously don’t know at this point whom they would eventually play, here’s the first in a four-part series on how the Bruins match up with the four teams that would get added in the East and given a chance to play for the Stanley Cup:
Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 pts, .579 winning percentage)
The Blue Jackets have been ravaged by injuries this season and somehow still managed to remain in the playoff mix. A major reason they could live to see another day in this new playoff world is rookie goalie Elvis Merzļikins. ‘The King’ was 13-9-8 with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage when the NHL paused its season March 12. The Latvian netminder has also been a thorn in the Bruins’ side this season.
Merzlikins made 34 saves in a 3-0 shutout win on January 14 in Columbus when Jackets forward Emil Bemstrom gave Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask a chicken wing jab to the head and knocked him out of the game with a concussion early in the first period. Merzlikins also stonewalled the Bruins earlier in the month when he made 25 saves in a 2-1 overtime win for Columbus at TD Garden on January 2. The two teams were scheduled to play again in Boston on March 16 but the Coronavirus outbreak prevented that.
Like the Bruins, the Blue Jackets can play a heavy game but also an up-tempo style. Just like the B’s with Bruce Cassidy, they also have a head coach in John Tortorella that unites them and gets them to buy-in. When the season paused, the Jackets were missing their leading goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstand (21 goals), three-time all-star defenseman Seth Jones, sniper Cam Atkinson, power-forward Josh Anderson (whom the Bruins expressed interest in), and up and coming center Alex Texier. All of those players are healthy and ready to go should they get the chance.
Factor in the revenge factor from the Bruins knocking out the Jackets in six games in the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs and the read here is that the BJ’s could be quite dangerous for what would be a heavily-favored Bruins squad. Let’s not forget that they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning and Stanley Cup favorites in the playoffs last spring! If this were to be another best-of-seven-games series the Bruins are the pick in seven here but in anything else, Elvis and the BJ’s could pull off the upset.